THE LONG AND WINDING ROPE
WHAT IS IT WITH DIVERS AND STRING? You spend half your life chucking ropes around on boats, whizzing down shotlines, unwinding reel-fulls of it deploying your SMB - and the other half avoiding the stuff like the plague.
I'm hanging on to this piece of string. Below me is nothing but darkness; ahead of me, hopefully, is the wreck. But all I can see right now is a length of rope disappearing into the gloom. It's the oddest part of the dive, the part when nothing is really certain. It's a perfect zen moment, just me and the string.
But I can't pause to appreciate it or - crash! - I'll be rear-ended by some over-weighted, impatient wreckie and spend the next 10 minutes wriggling about, trying to extract his crow bar from my crotch strap. Not dignified, yet strangely familiar in a real-life, post-pub-experience way.
Should you find a crazy cat's cradle of lines leading away from the bottom of the shotline, you know that either you're on the wreck and everybody has gone off in different directions in the hope of exploring it, or you're not on the wreck and everybody has gone off in different directions in the hope of finding it. But unless you actually observe the wreck, its reality - according to a central debate in quantum theory involving cats - is indeterminate.
If you fail to control your buoyancy and blunder into that mass of line, you'll soon discover that there is nothing indeterminate about the reality of bondage. At this point ideas about Schrodinger's cat become far less relevant than ideas of Steven Seagal and a sharp knife.
String is the stuff that binds us together, and the relationship between divers and string is both contradictory and deeply revealing.
I'm ascending the line and the tide is pulling. Unexpectedly, at 18m, I have in my hand a shrivelled brown object. There's no more line. This deflated blob was once the jolly red buoy that I last saw at the surface. Too much tugging has rendered the poor thing pretty much useless and it could do with being blown. I'm sure you'll have shared the experience.
Perhaps the line was just too short for the task, and we all know that lack of length is generally a cause of disappointment.
Who among us has not had that confidence-sapping moment of doubt about length? You've fired off your SMB and the line on the reel is disappearing rapidly. Hmmm, I'm on a 40m wreck - how much line does this reel hold? Will I have to let my expensive reel go, or do I risk a Mary Poppins impersonation for a few metres before completing my deco?
The number one thing that kills cave divers is losing the piece of string that leads to the exit of the cave. The number two thing that kills cave divers is getting tangled up in that same piece of string. The 'can't live with it, can't live without it' dilemma takes most women a good thirty years to get their head around, which just demonstrates that a cave diving course is truly a great investment.
The next time you are confronted by a weepy female friend with man trouble, forget the Chardonnay and sympathy, just pass on Sheck Exley's Basic Cave Diving - A Blueprint For Survival and Martyn Farr's phone number. Sorted.
Some people make the mistake of viewing diving as an amusing hobby and overlook the fact that it constantly reveals the truth about us. The mysteries of the universe have stumped great thinkers, but that's probably because they didn't spend enough time diving.
Take the diver's string theory: everything on your kit will prove irresistibly attractive to string. Compare this with mathematical string theory: everything in the universe is governed by irresistible forces of attraction between tiny little strings. Truly, life imitates diving.